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In a rather unusual development for the normally secretive company, Apple has publicly announced that it will be shifting one of its senior executives to an entirely new role working on a mysterious new project. While naturally, Apple isn’t sharing any details about what the project is, it’s not typical for the company to announce these kinds of moves so publicly in the first place.
Apple actually made a formal announcement that Dan Riccio, its long-standing Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering, will be transitioning to a new role where he will be “focusing on a new project,” reporting directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Riccio has been involved in Apple hardware design since the very first iMac, but he’s also more recently overseen Apple’s transition to its own M1 Apple Silicon and of course the work being done on integrating 5G technology into the iPhone 12, not to mention the groundwork that Apple is clearly laying to produce its own 5G modem chips.
In fact, Riccio has been with Apple for more than 20 years, having joined the Product Design team back in 1998 before being promoted to head up iPad Hardware Engineering in 2010, moving into his leadership position in overall Hardware Engineering two years later, taking over from the legendary Bob Mansfield, who officially retired in 2012.
Now it appears that Riccio may be following in Mansfield’s footsteps once again by moving into the same sort of secretive special projects role that pulled his predecessor back out of retirement; Mansfield was tagged to head up Project Titan back in 2016, after having already returned to Apple two years earlier to work on various secret projects in an “advisory” role to CEO Tim Cook.
Last month, however, news surfaced that Bob Mansfield had finally retired for good as the Apple Car shifted into Apple’s new Machine Learning and AI Strategy division, under Apple SVP John Giannandrea. This led many to believe that the hardware engineering challenges for Apple’s car project have been largely solved, and now it’s all about the self-driving systems, which would definitely be a job for the expertise of Giannandrea and his team.
Meanwhile, John Ternus, who headed up the hardware team behind the iPhone 12 lineup, is being promoted to SVP of Hardware Engineering to fill the vacancy left by Riccio’s reassignment.
Riccio’s New Assignment
Based on Dan Riccio’s accomplishment with Apple, he’s clearly being moved onto something bigger and better rather than being eased out the door, but in case there are any doubts, John Gruber has also confirmed this with his sources, noting that Riccio “really is taking over something big and new.”
We already know that Apple has both Project Titan and the “N301” AR Headset in the works, but as we noted above there’s every indication that the Apple Car has moved on from hardware engineering into Apple’s Artificial Intelligence division, and there’s no reason to believe that it’s shifted back. Further, even the most optimistic reports indicate we won’t see an Apple Car until at least 2024.
On the other hand, several reports have suggested that the AR headset could make its debut later this year, and even if that doesn’t happen, we’ll almost certainly see it arrive in early 2022.
Further, the N301 headset is only expected to be the first in what will likely be an entire product lineup that Apple will continue to aggressively develop and improve upon over the next few years, leading not only to improved AR/VR headsets, but also the holy grail of the entire endeavour: Apple Glasses.
Up to this point, however, there have been indications that the project has lacked strong leadership, and perhaps even some challenging team members, so it stands to reason that Apple would want to assign one of its top people to head up the project as it moves beyond the concept stages into an actual, tangible product release.